Interview by Sakshi Aggarwal
With a total of over 22 years of work experience, Dr. Shaji Kurian is currently working as Head of the Department – HR and OB area at IFIM Business School, Bangalore. He holds a Masters in Psychology as well as an MBA in Human Resource Management. His Ph.D. research is in the area of Strategic Human Resource Management from VTU University, Belgaum. He is also an invited Guest Faculty at Uniglobe School of Business, Kathmandu.
Prior to IFIM, he was the Talent Head in India Semiconductor Association and was responsible for mobilizing resources and executing all-India level strategic programs for minimizing the employability gap to ensure the continued growth of semiconductor and allied industries in India through focused workshops and seminars across the country.
From 1997 to 2006, he was working in Indian Institute of Plantation Management, National Institute of Advanced Learning under the government of India, involved in extensive corporate training and Executive Development programs.
He has published and presented many papers in India and abroad. And he has conducted many training programmes on leadership and change management for corporate as well as government sectors including rubber boards, tea boards, and coffee boards etc. His recent book chapter academic mentoring in India published by Springer, Macmillan UK has great international acceptance. He is an impaneled expert in Times of India Ascent Series and an invited speaker at various national and international forums etc. He is also a common face in NHRDN panel discussions. His areas of interest include organizational behavior, leadership styles, change management, assessing people with psychometric tools, behavioral dimensions – individual and organizations and high performing organizations. He is also an impanelled trainer at Institute of advanced training for Income Tax Officers.
Dr. Shaji’s experience in the education sector
This sector is service aimed to build the foundations for future. Since we do engage with lots of best and young minds, the whole experiences of academics so much exhilarating. It’s a learning two-way process. I am so excited, even after my corporate experience, to be an academician as this whole experience is so much satisfying. Seeing the young minds grow and excel is a great feeling and that’s why I love this sector and due to which I love my profession.
Dr. Shaji’s philosophy of leadership and his leadership style
I don’t believe that in academics, there needs to be a particular style of leadership, apart from being a good mentor. Being an academician and HOD, we are always on a constant lookout for setting the benchmark, in terms of learning and creating a learning ecosystem. I feel that when you deal with younger minds, you can’t simply put a traditional style of teaching and leadership.
The biggest challenge of any academician like me is to excite this newer generation with the leadership style that makes them think and work. My style is predominant to motivate the students to learn. I completely believe that if people are motivated to learn, then it can create the best learning experience and things can always fall into right place.
Significant challenges faced by Dr. Shaji as the HOD Human Resource- IFIM B-School
Being in the Human Resource department, as faculty, I think, most of the times students feel that HRM area per se is a very narrow or niche where there are limited opportunities, but the reality is totally opposite. Students lack the information, and many times, the choices of specializations are driven by the immediate past experiences of friends or seniors.
However, the trend is changing fast. I see a lot many senior students shifting from marketing or operations to HR sometime in their career and continue to excel as great HR professionals. Because ultimately, the job becomes more fulfilling when you manage human talents. Initially, students blindly took the decision to do specialization. The biggest challenge for me as HOD is to motivate students to take the right decision and at the same time, help them to match their competencies with the different job requirements. I think this is the challenge for most of the academicians. However, at IFIM we have a structured mentoring program with the help of industry mentors and that is really doing wonders for career mapping.
The curriculum of IFIM Business School
IFIM always believed in a process-oriented, structured approach to ensure that our curriculum is industry ready. In fact, we know that in a VUCA world, the world is changing so fast. To avoid redundancy, we update the curriculum on a regular basis with industry support. Further, we do ensure that our pedagogy strictly consists of in addition to “knowing” component a “doing” as well as “being” component. In other words, it is more of an experiential learning with a lot of doing components. The only theory doesn’t help. We burn a lot of energy, in giving students more realistic/ practical inputs to make them industry ready.
Growth of students through placement opportunities available at IFIM B-school
The feedback of 90% of the students when they revisit IFIM after their placements, especially of the HR professionals, is the answer to this question. Even though some might have the initial concern with regards to the job title or job responsibilities, everything settles and as the company realize the true potential of candidates and they enrich their job with more responsibilities and pay packages. They come back very excited and happy, they do wonderfully well in the industry. To push this envelope further, we ensure a good minimum package from the industry at the starting stage itself and of late, companies happily oblige.
Dr. Shaji’s relation with the students being the HOD of the Institute
I see a student as the reflection of myself. I always think that I am one of them. If you think as a faculty and student are from two different worlds, or goals are different, then there is going to be some disconnect. Then things become different. A good faculty has to think and empathize with a student’s shoes. I don’t feel that I am older with many years of corporate and academic experience. Whenever any student come for a query, I always address it thinking myself in his/her shoes. I cherish being with the students. I am sure that even my students also have the same experience as I do.
Ideal school environment according to Dr. Shaji, and how he encourages that kind of culture in IFIM Business School
I would see ideal school environment where you don’t take attendance, you don’t force anything and the entire learning is self-driven and mutual. The role of faculty is to motivate. The students should come and discuss and learn, where the faculty only becomes a facilitator. Most of the traditional institutions go for a faculty-driven learning environment. I am sure that good institutions have already shifted their focus from a push strategy to a pull strategy. For example, at IFIM, students can choose the learning path as well as an array of courses from the basket of courses. Ultimately student will decide, what he wants to be and what he wants to do in life.
Top qualities according to Dr. Shaji that an aspiring manager must possess
I feel the leadership challenges are changing fast. There is no guarantee that the traditional leadership styles, ore may be a particular style is going to be the only answer. In this VUCA world, one of those managerial skills for any MBA aspirants is that s/he should be very flexible and should have the ability to connect emotionally with people. At the same time, they should possess skill set not to lead, but to take the flock along. Finally, we need to have a young generation with life-skills. He or she also should know how to cook or to clean the house or to survive in all situations. Rather than being a captain only in the war room.
Goals in mind for IFIM Business School for the next few years
IFIM is already on the right growth track. IFIM is now an AACSB accredited institution benchmarking its best practices, with global schools and only the sixth one in India to achieve this. Therefore, we strongly believe that the management education in India has to compete with the global standards. Right now, there is less convergence on expectations of industry, academia as well as students. We are committed to lead this initiative. As in our mission, we want to nurture holistic, socially responsible and continuously employable professionals.
Suggestions for the current youth and the aspiring students
Be very bold, happy, confident and enjoy your life. Always be open to learning.